Mind-mapping tools

XMind

The Java-based XMind [9] is one of the most popular mind-mapping programs, although the Linux version is well hidden on the manufacturer's website [10]. OpenJDK works well with XMind, but you'll need a Linux distribution with the APT package manager to run the installation script. Under distributions with the RPM package manager, the script terminates the installation. You then need to change to the program directory in the terminal and call the software with ./XMind.

XMind displays a somewhat unconventional workspace. The mandatory root node appears in the middle after you start a new session.

XMind creates a tree structure with branching sub-nodes starting at the root node. You can create a new node at the same level by pressing Enter; pressing Tab creates a new hierarchy.

XMind adds connecting lines to the individual nodes and generates them using preset format styles. When creating the mind map, XMind displays a format area with several options. The Format icon at top right pulls out groups on the right that contain Style and Map options. For example, the Structure selection area determines the general type of mind map and thus its appearance (Figure 5).

Figure 5: XMind groups hierarchies automatically at first.

To change node groups, you do not have to select them individually (by Ctrl+clicking on the nodes), but you can select nodes in a hierarchy level or several levels by dragging a frame around them.

You can generate unconnected nodes by double-clicking on the free area of the desktop and then moving them freely in the workspace.

For additional information concerning a group of nodes, XMind lets you add labeled brackets to the sides of nodes. After selecting the nodes, press the Summary button in the bar at the top and enter an explanatory text in the text box next to the parentheses.

XMind also offers a way to add images, notes, and links to nodes. The Hyperlink context menu option lets you specify a URL in a separate dialog that places a small link icon in the node. A click on this globe icon opens the linked website in the browser.

The Notes option lets you enter a message in an overlay window. After completion, a small clickable notepad icon appears in the node.

You can easily create additional connecting lines in XMind by selecting the starting node and then clicking on Relationship in the buttonbar. Now draw a connecting line from the starting node to the target node while holding down the left mouse button. Right-clicking on the line and selecting the Properties option in the pop-up context menu displays the Relationship dialog on the right side of the program window, which you can use to change the line's appearance.

Like most mind-mapping tools, XMind can add background colors to nodes or worksheets. The easiest way to do this is to select the required nodes first and then the Properties option from the context menu. In the Format pane, the Style tab offers several styles with background colors and borders. Clicking on one of them enables it for all the selected nodes.

XMind exports worksheets to various external text and image formats under File | Export To. Options marked are only available in the professional version (e.g., the PDF format).

The mind map, both on screen and output from the printer is accurate and clear. Third-party applications can easily open exported files. The software relies on the CUPS system for printing. A dialog lets you insert headers and footers into the mind map before printing.

yEd

yEd [11], a mind map program developed by yWorks, also uses Java and is available across platforms. A Linux installation script is available for download from the developer's website. Although the 64-bit version comes with a current Java 10 Runtime Environment, the 32-bit version requires a Java 8 Runtime Environment on the installation system [12].

If you select an empty document on the welcome screen, yEd shows you a rather unconventional program window. On the right and left, control elements frame a work surface. The left window segments are used for overview and navigation, and the right side gives you immediate access to graphical elements and properties, such as different node types, line types, and node content settings.

yEd lets you to develop a mind map by dragging individual elements from the Palette section without having to arrange the nodes in any way. Various settings for the visual appearance of the labels and nodes are available under Properties in the upper-right corner.

For a defined layout, you can select one of the numerous templates from the Layout pop-out at upper left. Selecting the Grid button in the buttonbar, lets you add a dot grid to the input area, which makes it easier to arrange nodes symmetrically (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Dot grids and guides in yEd makes it easy to arrange new nodes.

yEd also enables a line grid for freehand mind maps. When you create a node, yEd shows you lines to neighboring nodes if there are horizontal or vertical matches. These temporary line grids help to position new nodes accurately below or above existing nodes – even for horizontally arranged nodes.

yEd offers different setting options for the individual nodes, as well as for line shapes and thicknesses, that help you group the nodes visually. You can also label connecting lines and supplement them with arrowheads to indicate the direction. To adjust the node size, draw a thin frame around active nodes with handles at the corners.

yEd's one-click function, which is still tagged as experimental, automatically arranges mind maps or mind map segments. A special algorithm tries to sort the nodes in the different hierarchies as meaningfully as possible. This feature worked surprisingly well in the test: I created a hierarchical representation without creating the partly overlapping connecting lines that often make a mind map unclear.

Like the other mind-mapping programs, yEd has an export function. The freeware program offers options for various graphic formats, including BMP, JPG, GIF, PNG, and SVG in the File | Export menu. yEd also exports high-quality EPS and HTML, so it is easy to integrate mind maps with other applications. Office formats of any kind are missing.

When it comes to printing, the yEd print dialog lets you add a header and a footer. You can adjust the size of the mind map to match the print area and paper size.

Conclusions

The mind-mapping programs examined in this article all help to visualize projects and processes clearly (see Table 1). The differences are in the details: CmapTools and yEd are by far the most suitable for freehand mind maps that do not require a – typically hierarchical – layout form. The other test candidates have problems drawing frames or freely arranging connecting lines.

Table 1

Overview of Design and Print Functions

 

CmapTools

Freeplane

VYM

XMind

yEd

License

Proprietary

GNU GPLv2

GNU GPLv2

LGPLv3/EPLv1

Proprietary

Platform

Java

Java

Qt5

Java

Java

Node hierarchies

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Free nodes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Formatting Options

Variable font sizes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Font attributes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Changeable fonts

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Node frame

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Node backgrounds

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Attachments (notes, images)

Yes

Restricted

Yes

Yes

Yes

Line formatting

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Output

Fold-away segments

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Print dialog with CUPS

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

File export

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Own file format

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

VYM is well suited for simpler mind maps; XMind and CmapTools successfully integrate notes and win hands down when it comes to integrating multimedia content. Freeplane, on the other hand, is a solid all-rounder for daily use.

Because all the candidates have export functions, nothing stands in the way of integrating the mind maps into other applications. It is a little annoying that each program has its own storage format, and the formats are not mutually compatible. The candidates don't allow importing from other mind map programs, so if you create a mind map in one program, you will need the same program to edit it.

Not On Board

Mind-mapping programs that have been without a maintainer for some time were not included in this test: the well-known Freemind [1], which last published a new beta release two years ago, and Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) [2], which was updated about three years ago.

Other solutions, such as Lucidchart [3], MindMeister [4], and Mindomo [5], are only available online and are not intended for on-premises use.

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